It’s a misconception that when parents divorce it doesn’t affect adult children. It is important to remember that our children may be adults (and even may have experienced divorce themselves), but they are still children of both parents. In going through divorce, many parents “lean” on their children, making them into confidantes and, sometimes, surrogate spouses. Children, even adult children, are uncomfortable with details of their parents’ personal life. Confiding to a child about a parent’s indiscretions puts the child in a no-win situation. Many of the adult children I have spoken with say that they are shocked and angry by their parents’ behavior. But as the child, they continue to want the relationship. Giving adult children inappropriate information puts them in a quandary – how to have a relationship with a parent who may have behaved terribly in marriage without feeling disloyal to the other parent? Children are entitled to have a relationship with each parent that is not based on that parent’s performance as a spouse.
Adult children are also affected by divorce in practical ways. Dividing visiting time between the two parents, possibly even grandparents, is a huge problem. The pressure of being “fair and equal” becomes enormous. Furthermore, as their parents’ age, children often find themselves in the role of caregiver. If parents are divorced, this role can fall to them twice. Juggling their own lives and their children’s lives is difficult when a parent or both parents become ill. Some adult children feel resentful, especially when a marriage has been bad for a long time. They may wish that the divorce had taken place earlier, so as to have been spared the fighting and bickering. Many adult children feel the divorce will only be a liability to them now at this stage of their lives.
Then there is the issue of remarriage. Many adult children, who have adjusted to one or both parent’s having a new significant other, wince at the idea of their parents remarrying at this stage of life. Issues of inheritance and jealousy with regard to step-siblings and their grandchildren are difficult issues for adult children. The best way to help our adult children is to pay attention to our conduct during the divorce and remember to be aware of their issues and feelings. They may be adults, but they still need us to act like parents.
Think carefully about how much you tell the children about your marital woes. Be mindful that when you are talking about your spouse, you are also talking about your child’s parent. Keep details that may hurt your adult children private and find other outlets for support such as a therapist, your friends, or a support group. Remember, once the information is shared it cannot be rescinded.
©2010. Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, is a licensed psychotherapist in Connecticut. Her newest book is available at bookstores everywhere or at Amazon.com. This article is from her first book, From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce, which won an Honorable Mention Award by the Independent Publishers Association. To read more about the author and her work, please visit www.donnaferber.com.
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Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC
Donna F. Ferber, is a psychotherapist in private practice for 28 years. She is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor and an educator. Donna works with individuals and in groups. Her office is in Farmington, Connecticut.